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Driving in France

Driving in France

Enjoy driving along empty roads

Driving in France is generally easier than in the UK, with good network of well maintained roads and less congestion as France's population is more spread out than in the UK.

This does mean longer driving distances between places though. Although the roads are clearer in France, there will be congestion round the towns and cities as everywhere which will slow you down.

Before we go any further, the minimum age for driving a car in France is 18 even if you are under 18 and hold a valid licence in another country.

The Roads

Like the UK, there are different classifications of road type with a letter and number e.g. A26.

AutoRoute (Motorways)

AutoRoute are assigned an A with number e.g. A26 and destinations will be in white letters on a blue background.

These are the main routes through France connecting the major town and cities. The main difference is that most have tolls which are generally set at around €1 for every 15 kilometres (or 10 miles) for cars without a caravan or trailer. Some tolls also go up slightly in the summer.

French Road Network

National Road Network

Before you start heading off to find an alternative route, AutoRoute are usually the quickest and shortest route across France, so what you pay in tolls could easily be used in fuel travelling on the less direct non AutoRoute route.

There are some free AutoRoute and dual carriageways. Check before leaving to see if these are along your route.

The AutoRoute speed limit is 130 km/hr (80 mph) or, if it is raining, 110 km/hr (70mph). See more on speed below.

Routes Nationales (Trunk Roads)

Routes Nationales are assigned an N with number (e.g. N26), with signs on a red background.

These are the national network of trunk roads that are not part of the AutoRoute network and, like in the UK, are a mixture of single and dual carriage roads. They are looked after by the French government.

The speed limit on dual carriageways is 110 km/hr (70mph), on single roads not in built up areas 90 km/hr (56mph) or in built up areas 50 km/hr (30mph). The speed limit may vary from this (up or down) so watch out for signs. See more on speed below.

Other Roads

Other roads with a name are assigned a D with number e.g. D26.

These are all the other roads in France which are looked after by the regional authorities (Departments). They can be dual carriage, not part of the Routes Nationales network, down to country lanes.

As there is less traffic on a lot of the roads, driving can be a pleasure. Remember to take a good map or up to date SatNav as there aren’t many (or any) signs at junctions.

The speed limit on dual carriageways is 110 km/hr (70mph), on single roads not in built up areas 90 km/hr (56mph) or in built up areas 50 km/hr (30mph). The speed limit may vary from this so watch out for signs.

Like Routes Nationales, the speed limit on D roads is - dual carriageways 110 km/hr (70mph), on single roads not in built up areas 90 km/hr (56mph) or in built up areas 50 km/hr (30mph). The speed limit may vary from this (up or down) so watch out for signs. See more on speed below.

‘E’ Roads

On some signs, especially for the AutoRoute, you may see a road name starting with E on a green background. These are Trans European routes designed to take the traveller from one part of Europe across borders to another part.

In the UK we don’t use these signs, even though roads such as the M4 are designated as E routes.

Bis Roads

Travelling though France, you will see roads labelled Bis.

These are roads away from the main traffic for holiday, tourist or scenic travelling. However these secondary routes can be a useful way of avoiding the crowds and heavy traffic, especially in the summer.

Tolls

On entering a toll road, you will need to pick up a ticket. Just press the button on the machine and a ticket will appear.

When you leave the toll road, you will have to pay for the toll road distance travelled.

Toll booths are open when they have a green arrow and closed when a red cross is shown. Look out for blue rectangular signs indicating Credit or Debit cards only. These are usually quicker. You will also see orange ‘T’ signs Toll Tag Sign for tag lanes. Buying a tag is generally not worth it for the holiday traveller (cost approx €20) unless you are frequent visitor to France, and the card toll booths move almost as quickly.

Liber-T offer a tag for UK drivers but the toll companies generally charge more for these ‘holiday’ tags.

If you are using cash for tolls, carry plenty of change, as the toll booths are often automated and you don’t want to get held up at one.

Following Signs

French Road Direction Signs

Due to reorganisations and changes in responsibilities for the roads, the same continuous non AutoRoute road can be classified differently and given different numbers, even though it has not changed direction or destination.

Therefore, we recommend following the signs to destinations rather than the road names as we are used to in the UK. To help you, main route destinations are shown on signs with the names of places in white letters on a green background.

This is what the French do, so follow the same system.

Good Times to Travel

At weekends, lorries and trucks are banned from a lot of roads, making driving easier.

Places & Times to Avoid If Possible

Although most of the roads in France are less crowded than the UK there are exceptions.

Paris

If you don’t need to drive into or through Paris, take the route round it. There is a ring of roads to help you do this. If you want to visit the city, drive to the edge and take one of the very good trains into the centre. You will save yourself a lot of stress.

Summer Saturdays

Summer Saturdays, from the middle of July to the end of August, are peak holiday travel time. Many of the AutoRoutes get very busy with long delays as the French head out to the coast. This is especially so in Southern France.

Winter

During the main ski season, the Alpine roads become clogged. Plan your journey carefully, avoiding travelling at weekends where possible.

Watch Your Speed

Speed Limits;

  • AutoRoute – Dry 130 km/hr (80 mph), Wet 110 km/hr (70mph)
  • Dual Carriageway - 110 km/hr (70mph)
  • Single Roads – Not Built Up 90 km/hr (56mph), Built Up 50 km/hr (30mph)

The speed limit may vary from this (up or down) so watch out for signs.

However, unlike the UK where you are likely to see a speed limit sign at every opportunity, the French speed limits are indicated by the place name sign and the speed limit automatically changes. Knowing this, the French police like to lie in wait with speed cameras just inside the village boundary waiting for the forgetful driver.

If you go over the limit, it means an instant on the spot fine, unless you are exceeding the speed limit by 50 km/hr (30mph) when you will get an instant driving ban and your car will be towed away.

Important – it is illegal to carry any radar detection equipment, whether or not it's switched on, with your vehicle. You will receive an instant fine if you are discovered with a detector.

Keep within the speed limit and you will have a good holiday.

Cameras

The police use fixed as well as mobile speed cameras, including unmarked police cars. Following the French government’s decision in 2011 not to warn drivers of cameras, many warning signs for cameras have been removed.

Some of the warnings have been replaced by automatic warning panels, which either show you your speed, flash red lights or a happy/sad face depending on your speed. If you see these and you are above the limit, slow down straight away as there is likely to be a speed camera or trap close by.

There are now thought to be over 3000 speed cameras – fixed and mobile – in France…. so watch out.

Average Speed Cameras

These measure your speed between two points and then calculate your average speed. If you are found to have driven over the limit, you get a fine.

Toll Tickets

Despite an urban myth, these currently are not used to calculate your average speed between toll booths. However, the average speed cameras that are being mounted at each toll plaza will, so don’t speed on the toll roads.

Filling up with Fuel

Petrol = Essence

Diesel = Gasoil

LPG = LPG

Fuel is slightly cheaper in France than the UK with diesel cheaper than petrol. If you are driving a long distance, use a diesel vehicle, if possible, as this will save you money. Also don’t fill up on the AutoRoute if you can avoid it. It is better to exit the Autoroute as there are usually petrol stations within a couple of kilometres of the toll road exit.

Many forecourts now have 24 hour automatic pumps, which require you to use a chip and pin card. Some have been known not to work properly so it is a good idea to test them out first when the petrol station is manned during the day.

Breakdown / Accident

Warning Triangle (from AA)

Warning Triangle

If you come to a stop on a road because you have broken down or had an accident, you must display your red warning triangle at a good distance behind the car to warn other drivers. All cars driving in France must have a warning triangle (and a green fluorescent jacket) to hand within the car. These are available from any motoring store.

Call your insurance company as soon as possible as they may have a local representative who will be able to guide you through the process of dealing with the accident. If you are involved in an accident, it is standard practice to be asked to fill in a form called a Constat Amiable (or an amiable declaration) by the other drivers involved.

Just as in the UK, if you are involved in an accident involving any sort of injury, you must stay at the scene of the accident until the police have dealt it.

Using a Mobile Phone

It is an offence to use or even hold a mobile phone whilst driving. Hands free phones are not illegal as long as you do not touch them whilst driving.

The French police are getting tougher with mobile phone offenders and are issuing instant €130 fines. If you have a French driving licence, you will also receive 3 points on your licence.

Breathalysers

In July 2012, it became illegal to drive in France without a NF-approved (Norme Française) breathalyser in your car. This date was moved to November 2012 and then to the end of March 2013. At the moment, there is uncertainty over the law so we recommend complying with it until the matter is resolved, one way or the other.

Drivers who do not carry a correct working breathalyser, risk having to pay on the spot fines of 11 euros (£9). Since the cost of a single use breathalyser is minimal, we recommend carrying two single-use breathalysers; this will ensure that if one is used or damaged, you will still have a working breathalyser to produce to the police.

The drink drive limit is lower than the UK - 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood rather than the UK limit of 80mg per 100ml.

However, it is not required that you test yourself after having a drink before driving. Alcohol is also readily available at most road side restaurants, cafes and service areas. This is not an invitation for drivers to indulge, just the passengers.

Remember, the best advice, as for everywhere, is not to drink and drive.

Requirements to Drive in France

If you want to drive in France, you and your car must meet the minimum requirements to drive legally. You must;

The Driver

  • Be over 18
  • Have a valid, full UK driving licence - both the photo card and paper counterpart
  • Have your motor insurance certificate
  • Wear your seatbelt at all times (this applies to everyone in the car)
  • Wear a crash helmet if you're riding a motorcycle

The Car must have

  • A GB sticker clearly displayed on the back of your car - unless your car has 'Euro-plate' (number-plates that show a circle of 12 stars on a blue background)
  • Headlamp converters (stickers you put on your headlights when you're driving on the right, so your lights don't dazzle motorists coming the other way)
  • Warning triangle
  • Reflective fluorescent jacket accessible from inside the car before you exit the vehicle
Diamond Junction Warning Sign

Yellow Diamond Sign

Whilst driving, you also need to observe these rules

  • Children under 10 can't travel in the front seat
  • Only use your horn in an emergency
  • If you want the car in front to give way, flash your headlights
  • In built-up areas, if there's no yellow diamond sign, you must give way to any cars coming out of a side turning on the right
  • The last car in a queue of slow-moving traffic must use their hazard lights as a warning.

We recommend you also have

  • Spare bulbs for your car's external lights
  • A fire extinguisher
  • A first aid kit
  • A Green Card - it's a useful back-up to your motor insurance documents and shows you've got the minimum legal level of cover. Contact your insurance company to find out more.

Finally, a useful tip is to carry a Camping Card International. This will give you additional proof of identity, third party liability insurance, plus discounts at a wide range of campsites and tourist attractions.

Happy Driving and enjoy your holiday

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